Why Even the Best Parents Can't Monitor Their Kids' Social Media on Their Own

By By Denyl Green, Parent Herald July 25, 01:49 pm
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(Photo : Denyl Green)

Every day, in my job on the data breach response team at ID Experts®, I encounter scores of people whose lives, finances, records and sense of security have been devastated by identity theft. We live in a scary time, when our most personal information can be bought and sold online for the cost of a sandwich.

But here's something that scares me more: my 10- and 12-year-old kids getting their own social media accounts.  

One benefit of the career I've chosen is that I am more aware than most people of the risks we encounter every day, through seemingly innocuous actions. I know how to create secure passwords; I shred my mail; I monitor the social security numbers, credit records and medical records of everyone in my family, especially my children.

But this knowledge is also a curse, because I know how our privacy can be violated, no matter how vigilant we are.

Right now, my 12-year-old son talks to his friends online on his Xbox. I also, after a great deal of deliberation, gave him a cell phone. Now that he is turning 13, he is asking for an Instagram account.

Most of his friends already have an Instagram account. They also have Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. I want to run to his friends' mothers and tell them about all the things they aren't thinking of - phishing, malware, account takeover, bots, account impersonation... But I also know that joining social media is a rite of passage for a teen today. And if I don't let my son on Instagram, he will be left out; 85% of teens report using Instagram at least once per month, and 84% use Snapchat at least once a month.  

I'm already hearing stories about social media gossip posted by kids from my son's school. Right now, at age 12, it's often harmless, like which boy likes which girl. But as they get older, I worry about what it could turn into. I don't want my son pressured into joining discussions about drugs, profanity or bullying. Nearly 60% of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying, and more kids today experience cyberbullying on Instagram than any other platform. And a Columbia University study found that teenagers who use social media are more likely to drink and do drugs.

When my 10-year-old daughter also eventually gets her own accounts, my concerns are even greater. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 1 in 9 teens receives unwanted online solicitations, and 20% are exposed to unwanted sexual content online. 82% of predators use social media to find information about potential victims, like where they live and what school they go to.

Unfettered social media access for kids is a dangerous thing. Besides external threats, teens often don't realize that the things they post online will follow them around forever - when they apply to college; when they apply for their first jobs; when they apply for their fifth jobs. But right now, monitoring social media is a time-consuming chore for parents, and it's not sustainable. As the number of social media platforms increase, the amount of time parents have to spend scrolling through accounts looking for inappropriate content will become untenable.

I'm not alone in my concern - adults across the country are well aware of the dangers, and according to new research, over half of adults believe children, teens and seniors are highly at risk on social media. But the solution is elusive. For parents like me, who don't have their own social media accounts and aren't as familiar with navigating the networks, monitoring our kids' activities is even more of an impossible task.

What parents need is an added layer of protection - a tool that flags inappropriate or suspicious content, alerts them and allows them to take remedial action. It's why I stepped up to be among the first to use the social media monitoring service SocialSentryTM.

I don't want to be a social media dictator. I don't want to argue about it in every dinner conversation. And I want my kids to fit in, to be able to talk to their friends and learn how to express themselves eloquently and creatively through these platforms. For shyer kids, social media is a great way to interact with other kids in a way they might not be able to do in person.

As a parent, I know social media isn't going anywhere. But as someone who deals with online crime every day, I also know that the dangers aren't going anywhere either.

As parents, we want to be able to monitor our kids' accounts without needing to be a heavy hand in the process. But we also want to help our kids eventually learn how to navigate the dangers of social media without us. This means teaching them what a malicious link looks like; what an internet scam looks like; how to turn on their privacy settings; how to come up with good passwords; not to post that we're out of the house when we're on vacation. It also means making sure they understand that everything they post online - everything - remains.

We may not be able to keep our kids safe from every risk that's out there online - that's why teaching them about responsible online practices is so important. But with the right tools, we just might be able to get close.

Denyl Green is Director of Program Management at ID Experts.

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